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UN Security Council Resolution 242

Resolution 242 (S/RES/242) was adopted by the UN Security Council on November 22, 1967 in the aftermath of the Six Day War. It calls on Israel to withdraw from [the] (see semantic dispute later down) occupied territories (of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights) in exchange of an end of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The resolution is the formula proposed by the Security Council for the successful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular, Israel's mutual belligerency with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The text of the resolution can be found here.

The resolution's most important feature is the "land for peace" formula, which implies Israeli withdrawal from territories it has captured in exchange for normalization and achieving peace agreements with its neighbors. This was an important advance at the time, considering the fact that there wasn't a single peace treaty between Arabs and Israel until 1979.

For obvious reasons, the U.N. could not force the relevant parties to make a peace agreement, nor would the rather ambiguous resolution have precedence over bilateral negotiations; however the resolution was the focus of numerous semantic disputes (see below).

"Land for peace" served as the basis of the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, in which Israel retreated from the Sinai peninsula (Egypt withdrew its claims to the Gaza Strip). Jordan withdrew its claims for the West Bank shortly after the beginning of the First Intifada, and has signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, that accepted Jordan river as the border line. Throughout the 1990s, there were reports about Israeli-Syrian negotiations about an Israeli retreat from the Golan Heights but a peace treaty failed to materialize.

The resolution advocates a "just settlement of the refugee problem" but doesn't specifically mention the Palestinians (who were not represented in the debate). That was one of the declared reasons why PLO didn't accept the resolution until 1988; another was the reluctance to recognize Israel's right to exist. The resolution, however, did serve as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (Palestinians being represented by the PLO) that led to the Oslo Accords. The Accords' main premise, the eventual creation of a Palestinian state in some of the territories captured during the Six-Day War, in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel is obviously reminiscent of the "Land for Peace" principle.

Semantic dispute

The interpretation of the resolution has been controversial, in particular the issue of the correct interpretation of Operative Clause 1(i), in which the Security Council calls for
Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.
The French version of this reads differently:
Retrait des forces armées israéliennes des territoires occupés lors du récent conflit
The Russian version
вывод израильских воружённых сил с территорий, оккупированных во время недавнего конфликта

In simple terms, the dispute is about whether the Resolution would require Israel to retreat from all the territories it has captured, or whether it would still comply the resolution by retreating, on mutually agreed terms only from some of the territories.

The difference between the two version lies in the absence of a definite article ("the") in the English version (so that it means "from some of or all the territories"), while a definite article ("des") is present in the French version, so that it means "from all the territories". The change introduced into the English version was the result of a deliberate amendment made by the Americans (the drafting process being made on the English version, the French being a translation). Nevertheless, as both languages are official languages of the UN, the meaning of the resolution has given no end to controversy. The Russian and the Spanish readings support the English one, but only English and French were the Security Council's working languages, declaredly "equally authentic" (Russian, Spanish and Chinese were official but not the working languages).

Arguments in favor of "all territories" reading

Supporters of the "all territories" reading claim that the principle usually applied in international law is to adopt the interpretation which best harmonizes the meaning of the differing language texts. Applying this principle to this resolution, one would come to the interpretation that the resolution requires a full withdrawal is compatible with the English text, and is implied by the French text. On the other hand, although an interpretation requiring only a partial withdrawal is compatible with the English text, it contradicts the French text. Therefore, the interpretation requiring total withdrawal best harmonizes the meaning of the texts, and therefore applying generally accepted rules of legal interpretation under international law.

Some claim that Preambulatory Clause 2, "Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" would imply a total withdrawal; however preambulatory clauses never include specific directives, and so Clause 2 does little to decrease ambiguity.

Arguments against "all territories" reading

Opposers of the "all territories" reading remind that it was specifically disapproved by the UN Security Council, which is clearly seen in the fact that the phrase was amended. They claim that in interpreting a resolution of an organ of an international organization, one must look to the process of the negotiation and adoption of the text. This would make the text in English, the language of the discussion, take precedence.

Moreover, according to them the nature of the French language requires the use of a definite article in places where English does not, so the inclusion of the definite article in the French text does not imply what the inclusion of the definite article in the English text would. Finally, as they claim that the only reason for the re-appearance of this reading was translator error, which obviously does not justify the change in the document's meaning.

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